Some people reject Christianity when they come to believe that the religion has betrayed their values. Perhaps they see bigotry, intolerance and an abusive use of power in the religion of their childhood and they seek to escape that and to make a spiritual journey toward a more healing and loving tradition. That is not my story because that was never my Christianity.
There is more than one Christianity! There are multitudes of denominations and sects, all with their own perspectives (often competing and contrary) so it is pretty crazy for any of us to attempt to define the religion or to assume that our own experience of Christianity is definitive. There's no way anyone can turn their noses up at "Christians" without hearing first what kind of Christianity they espouse. I did not grow up in a narrowly defined Christianity that emphasized biblical literalism and/or that used its power to foster bigotry, violence, or patriarchy. My experience of Christianity was quite the opposite with an emphasis on social justice and equal rights for marginalized peoples and for women. The Christianity I grew up in was pacifist and post-colonial. Its study demanded biblical criticism not biblical literalism.
Some reject Christianity because they came to believe that it was oppressive, limiting, and judgmental. I stopped being a Christian in any orthodox sense but I never rejected it and do not feel injured by it. I just added more layers to my spirituality through my experiences with Neo-Paganism and comparative religion studies. When I read various essays by bloggers who weave Eastern traditions with Christian traditions, I see similarities with my own experiences as a Theosophist and Pagan. There are many of us who grew up in a very liberal Christian tradition that encouraged appreciation for different cultural perspectives and who have added onto our childhood religion through study of other traditions. That's not rejection. That's universalism.
I think it is awfully important to consider the differences in our backgrounds when we come together in community. Love requires us to take care and to move slowly. It requires us to listen unselfishly and deeply.
Many of us who come to Friends do so from other traditions, both Christian and non-Christian. Since the Religious Society of Friends began, Christianity has diversified tremendously. Many of come to Friends from broadly diverse Christian backgrounds. Since the Religious Society of Friends began in England and grew in America, there has been enormous change in our knowledge of and access to other religious, spiritual, and philosophical traditions from all around the world. Many of us come to Friends from broadly diverse non-Christian backgrounds.
There are Christian Friends and there are non-Christian Friends. We might do well to listen to each other a bit more carefully to avoid hurting each other unnecessarily.
Here are some questions for Christian Friends.
1. Is this person a non-Christian? If so, do they have a Christian background or do they come to us from an entirely different spiritual or philosophical background? Do I truly know enough about their background to make judgments about their intentions?
2. If this person is a former Christian, do I know why they now no longer call themselves Christian? Which Christian perspective (out of the multitudes) is in their past and how does that affect their relationship to christ-centered language? Was their experience with their version of Christianity predominantly positive or negative? What care and sensitivity does this individual require to encourage their best gift of love?
Here are some questions for non-Christian Friends
1. When you hear Christian language, are you overlaying your own frustrations with judgmental Christians onto your interpretation of the current speaker's words? Can you take the time to hear this speaker as a precious individual ? Are you remembering that there are many Christian perspectives or are you making stereotyping judgments?
2. How familiar are you with scriptural language as it is often used by Friends? Can you make better interpretations of their meaning if you delve more deeply into this poetic language as a foundational aspect of historical Friends' witness or are you confusing this language with the usage of Christian language from other historical traditions?
For all Friends encountering someone whose background differs from your own:
1. Can you, like the Native American man who was moved by John Woolman's ministry, hear where their words come from? Can you discern kindness and good intention in this speaker even when their words offend or confuse? ( William Penn said, "Men are to be judged by their likeness to Christ, rather than their notions of Christ.")
2. Do you really want to injure or reject this person before you who wants to belong in your society and who has exposed their difference to you in trust?
Maybe others can add to this preliminary list of questions.